WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
21 Jul 2016 | News

Obama to Meet with Mexican President Peña Nieto as State Department Evaluates Mexico’s Human Rights Situation

Washington, DC—Tomorrow the presidents of the United States and Mexico will meet at the White House. This meeting takes place at a moment when the State Department is assessing whether the Mexican government has met the human rights conditions in the Merida Initiative—a U.S. security assistance package. Under the Merida Initiative, 15 percent of select funds are conditioned on the State Department reporting to Congress that Mexico is making substantive progress in its respect for human rights within the framework of security operations.

According to a memorandum by the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), and six leading Mexican, U.S., and international human rights organizations, Mexico has again not met the requirements and therefore the State Department should not request the release of the conditioned funds.

Click here to read a summary of the memorandum.

For the first time ever, the State Department decided last year not to certify Mexico based on its assessment that the conditions had not been met. “The Mexican government needs to show authentic political will and the capacity to investigate abuses and deliver credible results,” said Maureen Meyer, Senior Associate for Mexico and Migrants Rights at WOLA. “A decision by the State Department not to certify Mexico this year would send a clear message that the Mexican government cannot say progress is being made just by having good laws on the books,” said Meyer. While Mexico has passed many laws and protocols, they are not applied in practice and authorities have not demonstrated the will to change entrenched habits and hold the perpetrators of crimes accountable.

Based on the content of the memorandum, WOLA outlines below the four human rights requirements in the Merida Initiative and demonstrates how the Mexican government has failed to meet these requirements.

REQUIREMENT 1) The Government of Mexico is investigating and prosecuting violations of human rights in civilian courts:

  • The government has not been transparent about the number of grave human rights violations it has investigated and the results of these investigations.
  • Despite hundreds of documented human rights violations committed by the Mexican military, according to publicly available information, only two soldiers have been convicted in civilian jurisdiction for these crimes and it is not clear if those convictions have been upheld.
  • There have been no convictions in emblematic cases such as the enforced disappearance of the 43 students from Ayotzinapa and the extrajudicial execution of at least 12 individuals in Tlatlaya. Furthermore, in both cases government officials have obstructed investigations, tortured victims and suspects, and tampered with evidence.
  • There are still no convictions for human rights violations committed by Mexican soldiers in the four cases involving the military where the Inter-American Court has issued judgements against Mexico.

REQUIREMENT 2) The Government of Mexico is enforcing prohibitions against torture and the use of testimony obtained through torture.

  • In 2015, Mexico’s federal Attorney General’s Office reported a more than twofold increase in reports of torture between 2013 and 2014, when there were 2,420 cases.
  • Even though torture allegations persist under the Peña Nieto administration, credible investigations and convictions for this practice have not increased. Despite thousands of torture and ill-treatment cases in Mexico, only 15 people have ever been convicted for this crime.
  • In emblematic cases like the 43 disappeared students from Ayotzinapa, nearly 80 percent of suspects showed signs of torture or mistreatment.

REQUIREMENT 3) The Mexican army and police are promptly transferring detainees to the custody of civilian judicial authorities, in accordance with Mexican law, and are cooperating with such authorities in such cases.

  • Despite clear mandates, the current national databases to track detainees are incomplete.
  • The Mexican government has failed to enforce its own regulations on detentions and does not provide the public with information on detentions in real time.

REQUIREMENT 4) The Government of Mexico is effectively searching for the victims of forced disappearances and is investigating and prosecuting those responsible for such crimes.

  • Since 2007, Mexico has recorded 28,189 disappearances. More than 54 percent of the cases have been registered during President Peña Nieto’s administration.
  • As of February 2015, the Mexican government reported only 13 convictions on record at the federal level for enforced disappearances.
  • In the case of the 43 students that were forcibly disappeared by local police, government officials likely obstructed the investigation carried out by internationally renowned experts and the whereabouts of the students remains unknown.
  • There is no reliable information regarding how many of the reported disappearances are committed by authorities.

To read a summary of the memorandum, click here.

To read the full memorandum, click here.


Kristel Mucino
WOLA Director of Communications
+1 (202) 797-2171